When I read things like that, I feel like the context in which I swim is bullshit. I want to know more about these tests so I can try to pick them apart. And maybe societies can be sorted into ones that where people see the results of purportedly scientific tests and want to check the methodology and ones where people defer to experts and swallow things whole — or am I somehow being American and individualistic?
Brooks wants to talk about economics:
[I]ndividualistic societies have tended to do better economically. We in the West have a narrative that involves the development of individual reason and conscience during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and then the subsequent flourishing of capitalism. According to this narrative, societies get more individualistic as they develop.Is this a new conversation? I thought this is a conversation we've been having for at least a century. Also, didn't China take its economic theory from the Western tradition?
But what happens if collectivist societies snap out of their economic stagnation? What happens if collectivist societies, especially those in Asia, rise economically and come to rival the West? A new sort of global conversation develops.
The opening ceremony in Beijing was a statement in that conversation. It was part of China’s assertion that development doesn’t come only through Western, liberal means, but also through Eastern and collective ones.
Brooks is in China, at the Olympics, so he needs to do his column on China and weave in whatever material he's gathering by being over there:
The ceremony drew from China’s long history, but surely the most striking features were the images of thousands of Chinese moving as one — drumming as one, dancing as one, sprinting on precise formations without ever stumbling or colliding.Eh. Here in Madison, Wisconsin, not traveling at all, I sit at my desk and hear the strains of the University of Wisconsin marching band practicing a few blocks away. They're always playing as one, marching in formation. Are they Chinese? It seems to me, people can get together and put on an orderly display when they want to. Does Brooks really want to say that the Chinese people are just much more likely to want to than Americans?
We’ve seen displays of mass conformity before, but this was collectivism of the present — a high-tech vision of the harmonious society performed in the context of China’s miraculous growth.There's that word "context" again. Look out, you're soaking in it. What on earth is Brooks saying here? Yes, I know, he got to go to the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and he had to think about what to write in his next column, but he's looking at a synchronous crowd and presuming the human beings in it just naturally act that way all the time — and not because the government enforces it, but because that's the kind of people they are. That's not just ridiculous. It's offensive.
But read on, Brooks is writing toward a punchline, and he expects readers to take his bait for a few more paragraphs.